One of the things that one does when test driving a car is to see how other people react to it. This can take a number of forms, from a thumbs-up to the use of another digit (which one hopes is germane to the car, not the driver). From a quick over-the-shoulder glance to complete indifference.
But I have never gotten a look like I got while driving the Nissan JUKE. A young woman in the back seat of a beater Taurus filled with teens stared at the Juke with what can only be described as amazement and longing. She started when the Taurus and the JUKE were side-by-side at a stop light, and she continued looking at it, turning back in her seat as the Taurus moved ahead in traffic.
Clearly, this car has presence.
Last year I had the opportunity to interview Shiro Nakamura, head of design for Nissan worldwide. He told me that no one can look at the JUKE and not smile.
According to Nakamura, you can’t not smile when you see a JUKE.
And as polarizing as the car may be, there is a whimsicality to its design that evokes the hint of a grin on even the sourest of pusses.
There is a mania in the car business for creating headlamps (and tail lamps, too) that are comparatively baroque, headlamps that deploy LEDs, lenses, tiny embedded logos, and whatnot.
Think about this: when you are driving a car fitted with the most outré headlamps, you, as the driver, can’t see them. It is lost on you.
The turn signals for the JUKE are housed on the tops of the front fenders. And at night, there is an orange glow that is visible. This is unlike any other car I’ve driven.
You get cool lights. And you can see them.
The JUKE fits into the B- or subcompact segment. Which means that it is a small car. But it really isn’t a car per se as it is like a little crossover.
The official word from Nissan, via Al Castignetti, vp and general manager of Nissan Div., Nissan North America, had it like this: “JUKE again”—again because this is the third year of production—“fuses the best qualities of a sports car, including a sporty driving position, dynamic handling, and powerful turbo engine, with the best aspects of an SUV—such as a robust lower body, raised ground height, improved visibility, confident stance, and available all-wheel drive.”
I’m not seeing the sports car aspects to it. And while the seat was bolstered a bit, I found that the driving position contributed to the improved visibility because for being a comparatively small vehicle, it offered really good sightlines.
Like a CUV.
That turbo-charged engine in question is a 1.6-liter four that features direct injection. That contributes to better fuel efficiency. As does the Xtronic CVT, or continuously variable transmission. Nissan is going a fantastic job with its CVTs. Even with the all-wheel drive (AWD), this car is rated at 25 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. Which is awfully good, considering.
The AWD system, incidentally, is a torque-vectoring system, which means that it splits torque up to 50:50 front to rear, but it can split torque from side-to-side on the rear axle. As much as 50% of all of the available engine torque (the engine produces 177 lb-ft @ 2,000 to 5,200 rpm) can go to either of the rear wheels.
Although the JUKE is a four-door, the rear doors are cleverly hidden in a cheater panel of sorts, black-on-black.
Speaking of black, the Midnight Edition, which the car as Driven was, includes 17-in. black wheels and a “Sapphire Black” rear roof spoiler and same-colored mirror caps. On a white car, the black wheels are a nicely menacing touch for a car that will otherwise make you. . .smile.
Engine: 1.6-liter, DOHC, in-line four
Material: Aluminum block and head
Horsepower: 188 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 177 lb-ft @ 2,000 to 5,200 rpm
Transmission: continuously variable
Wheelbase: 99.6 in.
Width: 69.5 in.
Height: 61.8 in.
Curb weight: 3,208 lb.
Base MSRP : $26,650 (destination: $780)
EPA: 25/30/27 city/highway/combined mpg